The FBI conducted millions of searches of Americans’ electronic data in 2021 without a warrant, according to a new report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The FBI claims it conducted the searches as they sought to curb cyberattacks.
“In the first half of the year, there were a number of large batch queries related to attempts to compromise U.S. critical infrastructure by foreign cyber actors,” according to the report, Bloomberg reported. “These queries, which included approximately 1.9 million query terms related to potential victims — including U.S. persons — accounted for the vast majority of the increase in U.S. person queries conducted by FBI over the prior year.”
The ACLU called the FBI’s warrantless spying an invasion of privacy ‘on an enormous scale.’
The FBI searched emails, texts and other electronic communications of as many as 3.4 million U.S. residents without a warrant over a year, the nation’s top spy chief said in a report.
The “queries” were made between December 2020 and November 2021 by Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel as they looked for signs of threats and terrorists within electronic data legally collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to an annual transparency report issued Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The authority the FBI used in this case was under Section 702 of FISA, which is set to expire at the end of next year unless it’s renewed by Congress.
The report doesn’t say the activity was illegal or even wrong. But the revelation could renew congressional and public debates over the power U.S. agencies have to collect and review intelligence information, especially data concerning individuals. In comparison, fewer than 1.3 million queries involving Americans’ data were conducted between December 2019 and November 2020, according to the 38-page report.
The report sought to provide a justification for the increase in queries during the last year.